HUGH AND I – A Tale of Two Friends – by Rafiq Khan

Tribute – By Rafiq Khan – which was delivered at the Memorial Service for the late Hugh Cholmondeley on Friday September 7, 2012 at St. George’s Cathedral.



My name is Rafiq Khan., and Hugh Neville James Cholmondeley is my friend – down to the last syllable of  his name…heard and unheard.

It does not lie in me to share with you, here and now, the best remembrances of my friend. Such memories come forth from time, distance and separation, and our friendship of some 55 years is still too close, still too alive, for the most significant memories to crystallize.

When we are in the process of growing experiences and fostering affinities, can we ever know at what point we are making a memory?               

Did I know, for instance, that Hugh and I were making a memory one day in 1958, when  a gangling youth, barely 18, sat before my desk? There he was, hunched like a runner at the starting block, with little to recommend him for the announcer role he sought but a huge voice and a gleam in his eyes.  With a hope and a prayer, I took him on but, truth to tell, he kept crashing into some early learning curves, and it did not take long for the powers-that-were to come banging on my desk to send him home. But, with nothing to back me up but that gleam in his eyes, I stood my ground and gave him the space he needed to find himself. Soon he connected to his true talents, and it was onward, upward for young Cholmondeley… Today, we can only wonder what would have become of the lad had I under pressure rolled over and let him go?

As to his very name, Hugh, how could I have known we were making another memory at that first encounter when he introduced himself to me as Neville? Off-handedly, I remarked that his first name, Hugh, would sound more impressive on radio – and he took me up on it.  Had he demurred, today we would be assembled here to pay homage to our great friend and kinsman, NEVILLE Cholmondeley! (“A rose by any other  name…?”)

Again, did I know we were making a memory when, in those formative years, Hugh was found fusing into one person (himself) the functions of announcer and control operator? This, in the face of the strict orthodoxies of the time, which prescribed that the announcer must keep to his booth announcing and the operator must keep to his booth operating, and ne’er the twain shall meet. But, I stayed my hand. Why? Because some inner voice told me to go first to my room and listen.  What I heard was stunning – a new way of presenting music on radio, no longer stilted but spontaneous and flowing .Vindication for Hugh – and the onset of a new phenomenon, the radio disc jockey.

And so it went on, with Hugh adventuring on the outer edge of the straight and narrow path, and me holding on to his shirt-tail for dear life. As we careened along, many barriers were knocked aside and potholes leapfrogged by this alliance of Faith and Trust – my Faith in him and his Trust in me to watch his back.

Such is the stuff of random memory, but surely the most enduring images of my relationship with this unforgettable man must lie, not in the blossoms of his beginnings, but in the blooms of his maturings?

Images such as those, ten years later, when our roles changed, and Mentor and protégé became competitors. Hugh had gone off to remodel a Radio Service which my Company had ceded to the Government. It was a curious kind of competition: Our agendas were different, the battle at operational level was keen, and leading well-honed, rival troops were two chieftains who, having grown in each other’s shadow, were convinced they could read each other’s mind.  Of course, telepathy turned out not always to work but, in our jousting, never did we stray from the values I had instilled in Hugh and he had burnished in me. And the beneficiary of high endeavours was always the audience.

The dwindling survivors of that audience still treasure their own memories of those halcyon days and the essential role played by Hugh Cholmondeley. May I only say to those who may bemoan the state of broadcasting today in this land of ours:

“Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment
That was Camelot.”

Fast forward by another ten years (it would seem that pivotal moments in the relationship between Hugh and me were always a decade apart). Having decided to leave the Guyana    scene rather than become a creature of Government, I was torn between regional options, when UNESCO made me an offer I could not refuse. Hugh, who had gone ahead of me, was sent by UNESCO to Jamaica to establish its first Caribbean Office, and I was recruited, no doubt at Hugh’s urging, to join him as his Chief Technical Adviser.

So, there we were with another role change: In the beginning I was Hugh’s boss, then we were competitors, and now Hugh was my boss.  And we were intrigued by the game that Destiny was playing with our lives.

But there was one more round of musical chairs to come. Hugh had moved on to higher calling within the UN System, and in the fullness of time I retired from UNESCO and began roving the Caribbean as a private consultant. That was when Hugh and I found ourselves meeting up once again on high-level regional  projects, this time collaborating as equal colleagues. Thus, the gamut had been run.

But finally it came time for me really, really to retire (Hugh never did, really), and I settled back into my Jamaica nook, where my wife and I now spend our remaining days contemplating the sunset… And so, the question asked about the hand of Fate in Hugh’s early days may now be asked about me:  What would have become of Rafiq Khan in his later years, were it not for Hugh Cholmondeley?

Underlying and knitting our chameleon-like professional relationship was an abiding personal friendship of over half a century – a friendship which extended to and embraced both our families.  From wherever his UN peacemaking and rebuilding missions took him

– be it Haiti or Somalia or Liberia or even Afghanistan – Hugh would sometimes run ideas by me, not because of any expertise I had (since I had none) but, I daresay, from long habit of expecting a disinterested view from his old mentor.

Compared to the intractable problems he confronted on the world stage, sad to say, none caused Hugh Cholmondeley more agony and heartbreak than the mission he took onto himself in his own homeland. His efforts over the years, behind the scenes, to detribalize, harmonize and uplift the Guyana society were met for the most part by a tonal deafness or, at best, equivocation from contentious forces. Frustration dogged his steps, yet he kept on trying.

As life waned, I visited with Hugh a few weeks ago in his New York apartment and spent a precious day by his bedside, while Marieanne, his rock and comforter, withdrew into the background, allowing these two codgers to commune about their times together and reflect on life and legacy. To see a resurgent Guyana was for Hugh an endless, aching desire but, since time was running out on him, he told me he would settle for just being able to close his eyes in his beloved country. In the end, even that, Fate denied him.

So now, the labourer’s task is o’er… Nunc dimittis…  But, Hugh Neville James, where’er you walk in Elysian Fields, every now and then look around. Who knows? It may not be long now before you see a certain, ancient figure in his accustomed position –  right behind you – watching your back!

7 September, 2012.                                                                 – Rafiq Khan

St. George’s Cathedral,       Guyana.   

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  • Deen  On 09/12/2012 at 6:56 pm

    Rafiq Khan, what a wonderful story of enduring friendship, and a memorializing tribute to Hugh Cholmondeley. Yes, your reflection of those halcyon days in Guyana appeared to have been a touch of Camelot. Thanks for sharing a special part of your life and friendship. Your “tale of two friends” was beautiful and impressively scripted

  • Janet Carmichael  On 09/14/2012 at 6:38 pm

    There is so much quiet passion in this beautiful tribute; one would need to be dead not to have felt it– not to have reacted to it. Rafiq Khan, you continue to be an effective communicator. Thank you.

  • Ron. Persaud  On 09/16/2012 at 9:50 am

    In primary school I learned that 1+1 =2.
    In secondary school I learned that x+x =2x.
    In life I found out that x+x can occasionally equal “x squared”.
    In affairs of the heart this is commonly referred to as “chemistry”.
    It is an enchanting relationship; and Rafiq Khan describes it in his inimitable prose. I can empathize with the relationship between himself and Hugh Cholmondeley.
    I once had an encounter with this ‘equation’ when Milton Latcha and I worked on a “Black-eye” project at Albion estate – long ago and far away. But still a fond memory.

  • Alexander Aditya Parsan  On 12/14/2013 at 11:36 pm

    Good Job Uncle Rafiq! You never fail to amaze me.

  • blueexpert11  On 10/10/2014 at 12:44 pm

    May he rest in peace. -Alexander Parsan

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